Home » Business » Interview with a Lady :Gertrude Serna

Interview with a Lady :Gertrude Serna

Gertrude Serna is a soft spoken, engaging Apache woman who has been creating genuine Apache dolls for decades. Originally, she started out producing full size cradleboards for infants, then moved on to beading ‘T’ necklaces and capes. Dolls, however, are her vocation, her oeuvre. She is self taught and works in her home. She is interested, she says, in passing on this ability to others.

Gertrude SernaGertrude originally had eight children, six of whom survive, and her daughters loved the dolls she would fashion of cloth and beads. These are stuffed with pillow cotton and sewn by hand and machine. The hair is made from black yarn and the expressions on the faces are hand-stitched. The cloth dolls are complete with miniature ‘T’ necklaces which are done on a small loom, and the figures hold to-scale cradleboards with tiny infants inside of them. Ms. Serna also makes standing dolls, for display rather than play, these of buckskin clad girls ready for their journey into womanhood. This type of outfit is worn for an occasion known as the Sunrise Ceremony; it lasts for two to four days and occurs when a girl is about twelve years of age. The dolls’ faces have a streak below the eyes to signify the wearing of ‘yellow powder’- this being yellow pollen gathered from cattails, which is applied to the face and outfit of the girl. Typically, it takes a few days to craft each doll- Gertrude laughs at this point and says she “used to do a doll a day,” but this was a few years ago. She also fabricates smaller, six-inch dolls which are considered

collector items. These are of very high quality, and feature a doll figure with a burden basket and a tus (water jug). She always signs her pieces.

When Gertrude was a girl, she enjoyed hanging out with the boys- “riding horses and catching fish”- and was considered somewhat of a tomboy. Her father Charley Moses, an influential man, sat her down one morning and said, ‘you came into this world to become a woman’. Gertrude chuckles when she says, “My father made a lady out of me.” Her own Sunrise dance was in 1950.

Ms. Serna, as a full blooded San Carlos Apache woman feels Native American culture isn’t being passed on in a meaningful way, and thinks the Sunrise dances sometime become too competitive. “We need to be humble, to have respect”, she says, when carrying on the traditions.Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 8.49.48 AM

Former First Lady Laura Bush was presented with a Gertrude Serna doll a few years ago in Phoenix, and while Gertrude wasn’t in attendance on that day, she is nonetheless pleased by the fact it was accepted and appreciated.

Gertrude has a granddaughter who will have a dance soon, and she describes the importance and meaning of the various ways of the ceremony. In her opinion, “A white buckskin [dress] is best for a young girl” because it is pure- her partner in the dance can wear a yellow or tan skin. The cane which the girl carries (this “gives her strength” and is kept for a lifetime, eventually assisting her in old age) is made of mesquite root and is very strong. This should have the eagle feathers standing up, not hanging, in order to “keep her spirit up”. Additionally, the abalone shell which a girl wears centered on her forehead helps her focus on her future, “a vision of the path she will take“. The long ribbons worn in the hair represent the Four Directions (East, West, North and South), the colors representing “what God made- the sun, the earth, the sky, the water and the night”. San Carlos ribbon colors are yellow, blue, white and black.

Tentatively smiling, Gertrude sits demurely and poses for a few photographs, her dolls at her side. The lady is Apache and the Apache is a lady, and her work stands as a testament to the power of creative hands and the longevity and importance of Native American traditions.












NOTE: The Western Apache Indians of Arizona have a beadwork tradition that extends back at least to the middle of the nineteenth century. Traveling from the Northwestern part of North America, the Apaches arrived in the SW sometime between 1400 and 1600. Like their neighbors of the Plains, Western Apaches made clothing of animal hides and often decorated their clothing and accessories with painted designs made from vegetable pigments. When the Europeans introduced them to glass beads around 1850, this quickly became the popular way to adorn personal items. Beadwork is not a craft commonly associated with the Southwestern Indian tribes, who are known instead for their pottery, basketry and textiles.

Review Overview

User Rating: Be the first one !

About globemiami

This content comes to you through GMTimes staff and/or contributed content through press releases, submitted articles and non-profit organizations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *